Guest Post from Sarah Etter, 8th Grade Author, on C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma


Sarah Etter with her editors, Ned Bustard and Greg Thornbury

Sarah Etter is a dear, dear friend of mine. Actually, I’ve known her all of her life. She is the daughter of one of my very best friends, Bruce Etter, who faithful readers of TBYFA will remember recently included me in some interviews for a history series. He interviewed me on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and also hosted a roundtable discussion with John Fea and me on whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation.

Sarah is thirteen years old, and finishing up her eighth grade year as a student at Wilson Hill Academy where her father serves as head of school. What is really special about Sarah is that she is a contributor to Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who, edited by Gregory Thornbury and Ned Bustard. She is one of the most impressive students I’ve ever seen–truly. She is the only eighth grader I’ve ever known to contribute to a work edited by such towering figures as Thornbury and Bustard. I am honored to share this essay that she wrote especially for us here at the blog.

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Sarah writes about C. S. Lewis’ famous Trilemma, but she gives us a fresh and very interesting perspective on it. Here’s Sarah–read and enjoy.

The enchanted world of Narnia has brought charm to the world since 1950. It is a world of silver seas, growing lampposts, and valiant mice. C.S. Lewis’ story has impacted the world internationally, selling over 100 million copies in 47 different languages. Outside of literature, Lewis was also a world-renowned Christian philosopher, writing dozens of theology books on ultimate issues, arguing from a Christian perspective. In Mere Christianity, he explained his famous theory, the “Trilemma”, which states that when it comes to answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” we have three choices: Jesus is a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord. Later on, the idea of “Legend” became a fourth “L” option.

The Chronicles of Narnia are well-known for their powerful Christian allegories. They are clear, fresh, evident, and enjoyable. Lewis clearly meant to communicate deep theological meanings. One example has to do with three main villains of Narnia. A closer look reveals that these notorious bad guys resemble the three views of Lewis’ Trilemma. Whether or not Lewis intended such a connection is not clear, but Jadis, Miraz, and The Emerald Witch correlate with Liar, Legend, Lunatic.

In what is likely the most famous Narnia story, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, we watch Aslan, (an allegorical figure representing Jesus), die for Edmund. This has become one of the most famous allegory to the crucifixion and substitutionary atonement in all of children’s literature. However, maybe The White Witch represents more than just Satan. In The Magician’s Nephew, we learn The White Witch’s (Jadis) back story and character. One of the most revealing scenes in this area is Narnia’s birth, where Aslan’s sacred voice creates a blooming life to an infant Narnia. As Digory and Polly look on Aslan with humbled and perplexed eyes, Jadis is repulsed. She throws her lamppost at Aslan’s head in an act of defiance, loathing the life and magic that Aslan is performing. Later on in the book at the garden, she declares that Digory has a false view of Aslan. Jadis is essentially saying that Aslan is a liar. It’s very common today to divide ourselves up into those who believe Jesus existed and those who don’t. Lewis says that is not legitimate. He says that out there, in the world, there are people who wouldn’t doubt Jesus’ existence for a second. A man named Jesus walked the earth? That’s right. But he was a liar. Son of Mary? Sure. Son of God? Certainly not. Jadis wants to plant doubts in Digory’s mind about who Aslan truly is. She seeks to plant thoughts into the back of his mind and toys with his desires. What has Aslan ever done for you? What about your mother? She is pinning deceit onto Aslan. People like Jadis want to turn us against God, and it is often difficult not to listen to them. But, as all heretics do, Jadis makes a mistake when she tries to turn Digory against Polly.

The Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Emerald Witch, the malicious Queen of the Underland, is the villain who makes all of us cringe at the sound of her name in The Silver Chair. Though she appears less often than Miraz or Jadis, her impact on Narnia is just as powerful. Sly, cunning, and gorgeous, she very much reminds us of Jadis. But just as compelling as her character is the theological meaning embedded in her character. When Eustace and Jill boldly claim their belief in Aslan, the witch shuts them down, declaring this as lunacy. Aslan is not a lion; that is insanity. Jesus was not the Son of God, that is madness. We know this is not true. But Eustace, our great hero, whose skin was torn from him by Aslan’s own paw, whose dirt and monstrosity were washed away, who treaded the Silver Sea and touched the end of the world, to this heresy he succumbs. He collapses. Not by physical force, just by a pretty face and some sweet sounding spell and he is useless. What a depressing depiction of how easily we break. The Lady of the Green Kirtle claims Aslan is essentially a lunatic, and Eustace falls right at her feet. It’s not just in Narnia that Christians are confronted with this view, and it’s just as life threatening here as it was for Eustace and Jill.

In Prince Caspian, we read of Miraz’s ancestors, the Telmarines, who invaded Narnia in year 1998, the last year of the Dark Age, the first year of the Telmarine Age. This was 983 years after the Pevensies left Narnia in 1015. In approximately 2263, Miraz killed his brother, Caspian IX and took the throne, and then in 2303 attempted murder on his nephew, Caspian X. Miraz thinks his greatest strength is rationality. Miraz mocks the fairytales of Old Narnia. This sounds strangely close to the part of the Trilemma that others added later on. “Legend” represents the people who think that Jesus never existed. This is clearly the view Miraz has of Aslan. These people are everywhere in our world today. Just look at Miraz, he, the great Telmarine king, he, who laughs in the face of legends, he, who is rational and intelligent. He cares nothing for Narnia, but forbids anyone around him to speak of it. He firmly denies the existence of the kings and queens of old, and yet is hesitant to duel Peter. He declares it all as legend, which matters not, he doesn’t care for it all, and yet the very name of Aslan makes his blood boil. In our society, and Lewis’ as well, people claim God is dead.They are skeptical of God’s existence, but God still infuriates them. Miraz is a picture of those who claim Jesus is a legend.

Lewis depicts these heretics as witches, tyrants, and snakes, each one attacking Aslan with a different weapon. It would be unwise to take that depiction for granted. In Aslan’s story, these people are villains, and line up too well with Lewis’ opposing beliefs against Jesus. Of course, there is one more category Lewis believed in that I have not spoken of. Now that we have observed the violent Jadis, the dictatorial Miraz, and the cruel-hearted Emerald Witch, there is one more. And while the first three have been constant in our time and in Lewis’ day as well, in the fictional realm and the real realm, this one is more eternal, more impenetrable, and more triumphant than any of the others. While Jadis is slain, and Miraz is killed, and the Emerald Witch is slaughtered, this one stands tall and vibrant, and remains victorious when all others fail. And when the earth shatters and the stars rain down from the heavens, when all others recoil in fear, they will not falter. These are they who believe in that Jesus is Lord and not a liar, not a lunatic, and not a legend.


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